Anderson Turner

Were you lucky enough to have a favorite toy? Did you know other people who had the exact same toy, but you felt yours was different, yours was special?

Now imagine that favorite toy coming in multiple sizes and in a format that encourages artists, designers, architects and of course children to engage with, reinvent and decorate it.

This is exactly what is happening in this year’s Island of Misfit Toys show on view at the Akron Art Museum. Local schoolchildren and professional artists were asked to work with Munny, blank vinyl toys, to transform them into works of art.

Munny is a toy that was developed by Boulder, Colo., company Kidrobot. It harkens to anime style, similar to the work made popular by Japanese artists like Takashi Murakami. Murakami works in a variety of media, but he is perhaps best known in this country for his “cartoon style” sculptures that often have somewhat of an adult theme. Of course the Munny doll is family-friendly, and this is why it makes an excellent choice for this exhibition.

It’s hard to decide what’s the most intriguing part of this exhibit. Is it the professional artists’ work that shows both their serious side and their approach to a fun, yet challenging new object? Or is it the local children’s reaction to the Munny doll?

Through the student work, you see a real lack of fear in the approach. Nothing is held back, color and ideas are pushed around and lovely mistakes are made that enhance the beauty of these unique pieces and remind you that making art can also be just pure enjoyment.

Artist Andrew Shondrick’s Squirrel is one of the most striking works. Looking a little like a Hallmark store china piece meets a cartoon animal, this work packs a lot of character into a little space. The doll has been placed on a branch the artist has made and this gives even more character to the composition. It’s a lot of fun to look at, and the color palette helps to enhance the feel of the work, too.

Charlie Wagers created a piece that has a print of a bear sleeping on an iceberg situated behind two sleeping bears in something like a forest. What doesn’t hit you, until you think about it, is that the artist has manipulated the dolls into a sitting position, which is more impressive if you consider he would have had to cut off the legs and reattach them. This change in the dolls has been extremely well done, giving the piece a peaceful and professional look.

Scot Phillips has a painting titled Gang Members and a Munny doll titled Wanted. The doll has been painted gold, a dollar sign painted on the face and “wanted” printed across its belly. The two pieces play off each other, and it’s nice to see the experimental and serious side of this artist on display.

The many student works include things that look like dolls, a werewolf, bears and even some popular cartoon characters. One work has a Kachina feel and others take the form of little devils. These are all seriously playful, and it’s fun to go through them and see what the kids created. “The kids really brought it,” said Rob Lehr, Gallery Director of Summit Artspace, who curated the artist-created Munny toys.

Speaking of bringing it, artist Andy Hopp created a sculpture of a Holesome Sludgemoppet. This work resembles a weird creature-like baby holding a stick with a large screw in it. The entire work appears to be covered in something that looks like snot meets crude oil.

It’s a fun piece, and the arrow that points in the direction across the little creature’s body adds something to the story. I’m not exactly sure what the arrow adds, but somehow it makes sense and helps bring the entire work together. Is this little dude guarding something? It can’t possibly want you to come with it, can it?

Another fun part is the mega-sized Munny dolls located just outside the entrance to the gallery. Patrons are invited to draw on these pieces with dry-erase markers. It’s a simple thing, but one that helps to set the mood for the whole experience.

When my son and I walked up, one piece had just been erased and the other looked like it was covered in tattoos of some kind. We drew on the blank piece, temporarily adding our mark to what will be many, many more during the run of this exhibit.

We laughed, because even though we knew we were allowed to draw on the doll, it still feels like you’re getting away with something when you do this type of thing inside a museum space.

From the transcendent building to the excellent shows on display, the Akron Art Museum packs a serious punch. I would encourage you to come check it out this holiday season, and with shows like the Island of Misfit Toys, there is plenty for the whole family to enjoy.

Contact Anderson Turner at haturner3@gmail.com.